IDEAs That Provide a Solution When the Courts Have Disabled the System 65
To add more confusion and frustration to the lives of families with children with
disabilities,197 the new Secretary of Education was unaware that special education services are
mandated by federal law.198 During Secretary DeVos’ confirmation hearing before the Senate
HELP199 Committee, it became clear that DeVos was unaware that the IDEA was a federal law
that she would be obligated to enforce if confirmed.200 When questioned by Senator Hassan about
enforcing the requirements of the IDEA, DeVos said that, “states should have the right to decide
whether to enforce IDEA.”201 Senator Hassan went on to proclaim that the IDEA was a “federal
civil rights law.”202 DeVos tried to assure the Senator that she would “be very sensitive to the
needs of special needs students and the policies surrounding that,”203 to which Hassan replied, “it’s
not about sensitivity, although that helps,…[it’s about] enforcing the federal law to ensure that all
children have access to public education.”204 This may signal that Congress still feels the issue is
about access to education rather than providing a benefit, or it could just be the opinion of one
Senator. Either way, for Americans to know how much of an educational benefit is required under
the IDEA, Congress will have to address the issue.
V. POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
There is great public backlash against using public school resources to provide expensive
treatments to children with disabilities.205 In the long run though, the expense to society of
providing lifetime care to adults with disabilities who do not receive early intervention and
education is far greater.206 While I strongly believe this is a problem for legislatures to fix, in the
interim, the courts can use standards similar to the ones they apply in the Americans with
Disabilities Act accommodation cases. Additionally, the Secretary of Education made it clear that
she has a lot of catching up to do before she understands how to enforce the IDEA. That leaves us
197 See On Betsy Devos—Because I Can’t Be Silent, A DIARY OF A MOM (Jan. 18, 2017),
https://adiaryofamom.com/2017/01/18/on-betsy-devos-because-i-cant-be-silent; see also Kimberlee Rutan
McCafferty, A Call to Action Part Two, AUTISM MOMMY-THERAPIST (Jan. 23, 2017),
198 See Douglas N. Harris, Betsy DeVos and the Wrong Way to Fix Schools, N.Y. TIMES (Nov. 25, 2016),
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/opinion/betsy-devos-and-the-wrong-way-to-fix-schools.html; see also Charles
P. Pierce, The Betsy DeVos Hearing was an Insult to Democracy, ESQUIRE (Jan. 18, 2017),
http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a52357/betsy-devos-hearing; see also Aimee Ortiz, Hassan
Questions Betsy DeVos’s Knowledge of Civil Rights Disabilities Law for Students, BOSTON GLOBE (Jan. 18, 2017),
199 HELP is a commonly used shorthand for the Health, Education, Labor and Pension. See U.S. Senate Committee on
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, SENATE.GOV, https://www.help.senate.gov, (last visited March 11, 2018).
200 See Valerie Strauss, Six Astonishing Things Betsy DeVos Said—and Refused to Say—At Her Confirmation Hearing,
WASH. POST (Jan. 18, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/01/18/six-astonishing-
things-betsy-devos-said-and-refused-to-say-at-her-confirmation-hearing; see also Emmarie Huetteman & Yamiche
Alcindor, Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence Breaks Tie, N.Y. TIMES (Feb. 7, 2017),
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/us/politics/betsy-devos-education-secretary-confirmed.html (noting that Betty
DeVos was confirmed by a vote of 51-50 on Feb. 7, 2017).
201 Strauss, supra note 200.
205 Marlett, supra note 15, at 55, 72.